What is a brand?
Your brand is more than just your logo. Your brand is how your business shows up in the world — everything from how you look to how you sound and what you say. It appears in your packaging, your staff’s email signatures and uniforms, and how you answer the phone. It determines how you are perceived by those who interact with you and forms a critical part of your reputation.
And your brand isn’t static. It can always be strengthened and should be regularly reevaluated to ensure it continues to reflect your unique position in the market, the current environment, and your values.
Why is branding important?
Whether you’re selling a product or a service, or you’ve been in business for one year or several decades, having a strong brand creates credibility, distinguishes you from your competition, builds trust, and helps your customers remember you.
Your brand is vital to forming your reputation — and you don’t want your reputation built on accident. It dictates how you are seen, perceived, and remembered. Being intentional about your brand lets you create the experience you seek for your customers, employees, and community.
Luckily, as a social enterprise, you already have a leg up. Recent studies have found that 82% of consumers prefer to buy from brands that stand for a greater mission or purpose. So, a strong social enterprise brand is one that incorporates your social purpose throughout.
Building your brand: Start Here
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience(s)
Before you begin putting together any brand elements, ensure that you have well-defined target audiences for your social enterprise. These could include your existing and potential customers, participants, employees, donors/supporters, policymakers, community stakeholders, and others that you will need to reach in your marketing and communications efforts.
Now, list out some attributes about these audiences. What do they think? What do they want or need? All of your brand elements should appeal to your audiences, so have them defined and keep them top of mind throughout this process.
Step 2: Establish Your Brand Identity
Your social enterprise’s brand conveys who you are as a business. It is grounded in the fundamentals of why you exist, what you hope to achieve, and your values. As a starting point to building the visual elements of your brand, establish your brand identity.
Elements of your Brand Identity include:
What Is It?
|Who You Are||Name|
|Vision Statement||One sentence that describes your long-term goals – what you hope to see in the world.||From Chrysalis:We envision a community in which everyone has the opportunity to work and thrive.|
|Mission Statement||One sentence that establishes what you do and why you exist.||From New Moms:New Moms’ mission is to strengthen families by partnering with young moms as they progress towards housing stability, economic mobility, and family well-being.|
|Values||A list of words that capture how you conduct yourself as a business and the type of environment you seek to create within your organization and/or physical space.||From Coalfield Development:GumptionGritGrace|
Step 3: Define Your Brand Personality
Your brand’s personality is the feeling that you seek to evoke for those who interact with your business and how you want them to remember you. Think of well-known businesses, and their brand personalities might come to mind. Nike is energetic and bold; Trader Joe’s is friendly and playful; and Apple is stylish and innovative.
Now, imagine your business as a person — how would their friends describe them, how do they dress, how do they speak? Write out a list of the personality traits that you want your business to embody. Here are some examples:
The elements of your brand should all work together to evoke your list of personality traits. This list should serve as a reference point and is something you periodically return to, ensuring that all applications of your brand are staying true to this ideal.
Step 4: Establish Your Core Brand Elements
Keeping in mind your established brand personality and your target audiences, it’s time to develop your core brand elements that will help you bring your brand to life and enable consistency.
|Brand Element||What Is It?|
|Logo||Your business’ logo. You can have both a full version of your logo, as well as a condensed, icon-sized version depending on where it will be used.|
|Fonts||Choose a few standard fonts that will appear in everything your business creates. |
This will include fonts for headlines, body copy, and potentially calls to action. (Note: if you choose a custom font that you’ve purchased a license for, be sure to also have a fallback font that is available across programs and computers, like Arial.)
|Brand Colors||A palette of colors that will be used throughout your assets. This typically includes one primary color and a few supporting colors. |
Here are color combinations to inspire and get you started.
|Photos & Icons||Have a collection of approved-for-use* brand photos and icons for use on your materials. |
You should also establish guidelines for the type of imagery your marketing materials will use (for example: photos in full color, photos that present dignity and joy, etc.)
*See Best Practices & Tips below on designating a team or staff member to serve as Brand Lead – they will approve photos & icons for use.
|Voice & Tone||Established guidelines for the language your business uses and how you sound in written communications. |
For example, if one of your personality traits is confident, that should also appear in your voice.
If your brand is friendly, you might consider a more casual voice.
Step 5: Write Your Core Messages
Because you run a double-bottom-line business, there is a lot of information that you likely want to share about your business and your mission. But to have a strong brand, it’s essential to have a few (think 2-5) key points that your audiences know about you, beyond just your mission or vision statements, so that you can be remembered.
Once written and refined into a sentence or two, these points become your brand’s core messages. They form the foundation of all of your marketing and communications and will be repeated over and over again to strengthen your brand.
You might have heard the marketing “rule of 7” – that someone needs to hear a message seven times before they’ll remember it. With increasing competition in the marketing landscape, that number is likely even higher today. That’s why, when it comes to your core messages, repetition is key. You can’t wear them out.
Start Here: With your team, determine what these essential elements are that you want to continually reinforce and communicate to your audiences. Write them out. They will vary by each organization, but they might cover:
- Why your work is important right now
- How your business lines or programs work together
- What makes you unique compared to other businesses
- The transformative change your business has on people and communities
With 2-5 essential pieces of information identified, draft a one to two sentence statement for each of the above points. Continue to edit and refine until you feel these messages are:
- Clear & Simple. Avoid using jargon that might be specific to your industry or social enterprise. Someone without any prior knowledge of your work should be able to understand this message. Remain focused in your message, sticking to the one key thing you’re trying to communicate.
- Concrete. Use specific language and add relevant details. You want to paint a mental picture.
- Compelling & Emotional. Your messages need to resonate. Ensure they are relevant to your audiences and tap into their emotions.
- Memorable. By ensuring your messages are clear, simple, concrete, and compelling — they will become memorable. If they’re overly wordy or complicated, they won’t stick in the minds of your audiences.
Examples of Core Messages:
- Homeboy is the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.
- Thistle Farms lights a pathway of healing and hope for women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.
- At More Than Words, every dollar goes back into our program to empower youth to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business.
- InnerCity Weightlifting is not your typical gym. It’s a culture and community in which power dynamics are flipped, social capital is bridged, and new leaders emerge in the fight to combat long-standing inequities.
Your core messages should be reviewed and refined periodically to ensure they remain true to your work and the world around you (e.g., if you add a business line or the economy changes dramatically, you might need to make some adjustments). But because they are core to who you are and what you do — and you want them to stick with your audiences — they should not change too frequently. Once they are developed, they can be used across your website, social media content, print collateral, videos, internal communications, in speeches and media interviews, and much more.
Best Practices & Tips
- Be Authentic. Your brand tells the story of your business, and it needs to authentically reflect who you are and what you are offering. If your brand is inauthentic, you risk losing customer trust and loyalty.
- Test it Out. Your brand embodies who you are as an organization and must resonate with your target audiences. So in addition to including members of your team in the process (more on that in “Getting It Done”), consider testing out some of your key brand elements with internal stakeholders, like staff and participants, and other audiences that know you well, like Board members or long-time customers. Ask them what resonates or what might be missing.
- Create a Style Guide. Many members of your team will be utilizing your brand elements. To ensure consistency, create a style guide for your organization that contains these brand elements and guidelines for use of logos and other visual elements. All members of your team should have access to this document. When onboarding new team members, consider including a training on your brand, especially if they will be externally facing. (See “Getting It Done” for Style Guide Examples and Templates.)
- Get Organized. Ensure your brand assets (logo files, downloaded fonts, iconography, brand photos, and style guide) are organized and stored where staff can easily access and utilize the elements. This will ensure all members of your team are able to utilize brand elements in their work and feel equipped to be brand ambassadors.
- Designate a Brand Lead. Designate a team or staff member to serve as your brand lead. This person or people will ensure the brand elements remain organized and accessible, approve brand photography and iconography for use, and serve as a central point of contact for questions on brand implementation.
Getting It Done
To build an authentic brand, you will need to engage your business’ leadership, board, and staff in the process of building your brand elements. It is not work that can be fully outsourced. You can conduct the exercises needed to establish these elements in-house, or hire an outside branding agency or consultant to guide your team through the process. Certain elements, like a logo, will be best created by professionals with this unique skill set.
Resources to Build and Maintain Your Brand In-House
- Brand Personality Internal Exercise (Figjam Template)
- Note: this resource does require the creation of a free Figma account
- Frontify’s 7 Exercises to Help Develop Your Brand Voice
- Mission Minded’s Minute Message Model Worksheet
- Style Guide Examples and Template
- Canva: This online design platform offers free memberships for nonprofits that allow up to 10 individual users. For-profit enterprises can purchase individual premium subscriptions. Canva offers thousands of templates and allows you to establish your brand fonts, colors, logos, etc. so that users stay aligned with your brand. It is a great tool for creating email signatures, business cards, social graphics, flyers, and more.
Outside Resources to Consider
- Depending on the scope of your branding project, consider hiring an outside branding agency or consultant to support your team through the process.
- A designer or design firm to develop the visual aspects of your brand identity — logo, fonts, color palette, and other visual assets.
Additional Reading & Resources
- Canva Training & Resources on Branding
- Canva for Business Trainings & Resources
- Canva Design School (Free Trainings)
- Canva Blog: Focused on Design, Marketing, and Branding
About Christiano Comms
Sarah Christiano is an experienced marketing and communications professional committed to using the power of storytelling for positive social change. From digital marketing strategy and execution to content creation and copywriting, Sarah partners with her clients to propel their missions forward through strong and strategic communications.